OLYMPIA — Dollars for COVID-19 vaccinations and contact-tracing. Relief for K-12 schools. Child-care funding. Rental and mortgage assistance. Aid to state and local governments. Help for transit.
Wednesday’s approval in the U.S. House of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package will channel billions of dollars to Washington state as schools, businesses, governments and people begin to chart a course toward recovery from a year living with a global pandemic.
Dubbed the American Rescue Plan, the legislation directs a fire hose of money to Washington, including its cities and counties. The state is set to receive $1.9 billion for K-12 schools; $655 million for higher-education institutions; and $635 million for child care, according to numbers shared by the office of Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina.
Washington also will receive $7.1 billion in aid for local, county and state governments that saw tax collections drop last year amid the economic downturn caused by the virus and restrictions to stem outbreaks.
Of that, $4.25 billion will go to the state level just as legislators in Olympia prepare new, two-year budget proposals that fund everything from schools and parks, to prisons, environmental programs and social services.
Local government aid includes money for each county, including $437 million for King County and $159.5 million for Snohomish County. Money to cities includes $239 million for Seattle, $84.3 million for Spokane, $63 million for Tacoma and $25.5 million for Yakima.
The legislation is also expected to give roughly $800 million to Puget Sound’s transit agencies. And it contains $3 billion to help aerospace manufacturers meet payroll, Sen. Maria Cantwell’s office said.
The package will also deliver a new infusion of rental assistance to Washington, where the state’s eviction moratorium is expected to expire this month.
The state expects to get about $404 million in emergency rental assistance, according to the offices of Sen. Patty Murray and Gov. Jay Inslee. The governor’s office is “still learning more, including how it would be distributed,” Inslee spokesperson Mike Faulk said.
Those dollars come atop funding in the package to combat COVID-19 and accelerate vaccinations, the much touted $1,400 stimulus checks and assistance for families with children.
“That is a massive package of relief for people who are hurting,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, said. “Money in people’s pockets.”
One change from previous COVID-19 aid packages passed by Congress, Jayapal said, is that smaller cities will get aid dollars.
The new package sprinkles that money in communities across the state, from Arlington, Bothell and Burien, to Chelan, Hoquiam and Twisp.
The funding is designed, in part, to get Washington’s K-12 schools back open. The money would help schools get equipped with protective gear and air-ventilation systems needed to reopen safely.
“I think this money will get out very, very quickly,” Jayapal said.
DelBene hailed a provision in the bill that expands the Child Tax Credit, which she said was modeled after an earlier proposal by her.
That component will give regular payments to families as much as $300 per month for each child and make that available for some lower-income families who don’t qualify, according to the statement.
DelBene described it as “an incredibly important provision that would help cut child poverty in half across our country.”
“By enhancing the credit, making sure we increase the amount, making regular payments to families, [that] means that we can give millions of children a fair shot at success,” DelBene added.
Republicans give bill thumbs down
Wednesday’s House approval came along party lines, with Jayapal, DelBene and five other Democrats voting in favor. Republican Reps. Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside, Jaime Herrera Beutler, of Battle Ground, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, of Spokane, voted against it.
In a statement, Herrera Beutler noted her support for previous COVID-19 aid packages and said she would have supported a more narrowly tailored proposal.
But this package, “tacked on a bloated wish list of nonessential items like wiping out most of San Francisco’s budget deficit,” she said, and delayed the distribution of some education funding for later years, which won’t help schools reopen.
“That’s not what southwest Washington families want, and this bill as a whole is not what America needs right now,” said Herrera Beutler in prepared remarks.
In statements, Newhouse called the bill “a payoff to Speaker Pelosi’s far-left progressive base,” while McMorris Rodgers said it “simply fails to address the real needs of the American people.”
About 88% of the $1.9 billion for K-12 education will go directly to local school districts, said Chris Reykdal, the state schools superintendent.
He said the districts should treat it as “one time money” for costs such as upgrades to ventilation systems, personal protective equipment and additional counseling and interventions for children facing severe learning loss or other problems.
The rest of the money would be directed by the state budget through the Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction (OSPI), which Reykdal oversees, and with the guidance of the Legislature.
The money for local school districts, combined with broader spending on state and local public-health systems, said Reykdal, should help hasten a return to in-person classes. Roughly 41% of the state’s K-12 students have returned to at least some in-person classes per week, according to survey data collected by OSPI.
Reykdal also predicted the massive spending could foster changes that last beyond the pandemic. For example, Reykdal said, with the slice his office is able to direct, he’d like to offer grants for districts to think about changing school calendars to eliminate long summer breaks in favor of shorter breaks distributed throughout the year.
“Traditionally, students take three steps forward during the school year and then one step back,” he said. “That’s why we want grants to districts to explore how to rebalance their calendars.”
State colleges and universities are in line for an estimated $655 million.
Victor Balta, a University of Washington spokesman, said based on early estimates, the UW could receive around $100 million, but he cautioned the figure needs final confirmation from the U.S. Department of Education.
Balta said he was not sure what conditions will be placed on the funding, but that previous COVID-19 relief was spent by the UW on programs including emergency student financial aid, COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, housing and food-service costs, and facility and cleaning expenses.
“The new pandemic stimulus package is critical to help cover ongoing losses and extraordinary expenses COVID has brought upon on the UW and colleges and universities across the state,” Balta said in an email.
Officials at Washington State University said the school expects to receive roughly $60 million from the new package. Like the previous pandemic aid bills, the money will help students struggling with housing and food costs, said Colleen Kerr, WSU vice president of external affairs.
In addition to the direct aid to universities, Kerr said she hopes the money for state and local public-health programs will speed vaccinations, helping students return to campus safely as soon as possible. WSU is operating mostly remotely, but plans in the fall call for a hybrid model with more in-person classes. Kerr said the isolating effect of the pandemic on students has been extremely difficult. Over the weekend, the school held a mental-health roundtable on campus to hear from students about the effects. “It was devastating,” Kerr said.
Washington’s 34 community and technical colleges also will get a share — an important boost for a system whose student population is nearly half students of color and is the front line for laid-off workers seeking job retraining, said Jan Yoshiwara, executive director for the state Board of Community and Technical Colleges. The system is awaiting guidance on the exact amount various schools will receive from the Department of Education. “If we want to think about an equitable economic recovery, we have to think about the tools the state has to support an equitable economic recovery,” Yoshiwara said.
Yoshiwara said the new pot of money will help backfill funding lost caused by lower enrollment and the student-financial aid may be somewhat more flexible compared with previous pandemic-aid bills, broadening eligibility beyond just Pell Grant-eligible students.
Aid for governments
Seattle’s elected officials Wednesday were glad to see the bill pass and said they would discuss in the coming weeks how to use the government aid. In a statement, Mayor Jenny Durkan said she would be proposing a plan to “kick start our economic recovery, support downtown and neighborhood small businesses, and address the critical needs of our residents including individuals experiencing homelessness.”
Of Seattle’s expected $239 million, it’s not yet clear how much of that will go to rent and mortgage assistance, said Anthony Derrick, a spokesperson for Durkan.
Seattle City Council President M. Lorena González said in a statement that the council would meet in the coming weeks to discuss how to spend the $239 million coming the city’s way.
She anticipated using funds for food access, rental, mortgage and utility assistance and child care. And she said the bill is “a life preserver for our small businesses, especially the restaurant and hospitality industry.”
The $4.25 billion for state government comes as Washington’s tax collections already have recovered more quickly than expected compared to the steep drop-off during the early pandemic. It’s a significant amount of money for a budget that Inslee had proposed as $57.6 billion over two years.
The influx arrives as House and Senate budget writers prepare to release their proposed budgets later this month.
“While we have a good idea how much money will be coming to Washington state, we are still sorting out the details of how and when it will be distributed,” said David Schumacher, director of the Office of Financial Management, in a statement. “We will be working with the Legislature and state agencies in the coming weeks on many of these decisions as part of the biennial budget process.”
The aid package also sends money to rural communities. In Southwest Washington, Pacific County will get $4.3 million and Grays Harbor County will get $14.5 million. Okanogan County in Central Washington, will get $8.2 million, and Chelan County will get $15 million.
In Eastern Washington, Spokane County is set to receive $101.4 million, while Whitman County will get $9.7 million. Garfield County, the state’s least populated with about 2,225 people, is in line to get $430,000.
Funding for transit
The American Rescue Plan Act provides another round of operating subsidies for transit agencies, including 11 in the Puget Sound region that received a total $521 million cash during 2020.
Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff anticipates the region might divide $800 million this time, of which Sound Transit could see $260 million.
Those dollars keep buses rolling — emptier than usual — for essential trips and sustain a living wage for drivers and mechanics, despite temporary losses of local sales tax and fare revenue.
The American Public Transit Association says the supporters’ objective is for federal aid to actually exceed the typical operating costs of urban transit systems, figuring they took on extra burdens including sanitizing, debts, or sudden personnel changes.
Washington state transit ridership is about 42% of pre-COVID-19 levels, while Sound Transit’s weekday travel is about 20% of normal.
Nationally, the bill provides $30.5 billion to transit and $1.7 billion to Amtrak through 2024.
Importantly for Sound Transit, those funds include $1.4 billion in extra money for 23, high-capacity transit megaprojects nationwide, that already get partial Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grants.
Two of those projects — light rail to Lynnwood and to Federal Way — are under construction by Sound Transit. Rogoff expects Sound Transit to receive approximately $250 million.
He called this money “a meaningful down payment,” toward $1.9 billion the agency seeks in some future package that new Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says is on the way. Rogoff’s number is based on language the House passed last year, that would increase the federal contributions to the 23 megaprojects.
The package now heads to the desk of President Joe Biden for his signature.
Seattle Times reporters Mike Lindblom, David Gutman and Heidi Groover contributed to this report.